How did I get into this mess, anyway?
Okay, so how did I let myself get cancer, what with all the public awareness, fundraising events, informative commercials urging early testing, organic food, miraculous illness-fighting power in ordinary vitamins and flavourful spices being revealed in the newspapers daily, and so forth? Well, it’s not that I didn’t try. Over about a decade I mentioned various symptoms to several different doctors: gut cramps, occasional signs of blood in feces, very acidic indigestion, assorted weirdnesses in the stomach and intestines, a litany of such complaints. Early on, when I was still in my 30s, the usual medical reaction was to dismiss the symptoms because I was statistically unlikely—too young to develop such a cancer; thus, it was probably something else. Eventually, a new family doctor paid attention, but that cancer was crafty. I’d feel a lump in my guts (like there were times when I’d feel the food squeeze by it), but it disappeared before my ultrasound appointment came up three weeks later.
That particular ultrasound happened between three and four years ago. Despite these apparently clean results, I became convinced there was something seriously wrong inside of me, and I was frustrated that I had no medical proof. So, for that and a lot of other reasons (male menopause, anyone?), I abruptly decided to move out of Vancouver and telecommute. Actually, I already was a telecommuter, except the distance I teletravelled was in the order of 30 blocks from East Van to the West Side.
Anyway, I moved to a smallish town about four hours out of Vancouver (there are two traffic lights, although I think one of the four-way-stop intersections near the mall could also stand the upgrade). It’s the kind of town where by the time you realize everybody dresses in outfits from Mark’s Work Wearhouse, you realize that’s how you’ve started dressing (I call Mark’s the Country Gap). Other good things in town include a small hospital stuffed with little old ladies but unlikely to host any lethal superbugs, a decent health-food store, and several stores with good access to organic foods (which already were a large part of my diet). Plus, there’s great pizza from the local Italian restaurant.
What with the moving and my ongoing conviction that I’d inevitably moved here to die from whatever was in me anyway, it took me a while to get around to finding a new doctor and requesting a colonoscopy. (It almost seems like the best health-care strategy is to find a new doctor, choose some medical issue, and make it the only thing you talk about until you get a CT scan or a video camera snaked into you.) I could feel the lump again, on the left side of my guts this time. When the lump started interfering with my pizza-eating, I made the appointment. Meanwhile, I just continued to decompress from city life among the trees and lakes of my new rural home. Good choice, I figure.
The colonoscopy itself? No big deal. Really. I’d recommend you go have one, and the sooner the better. You can be unconscious, if you’d prefer. That’s the choice I made. Basically, I drifted off to sleep in the operating room and woke up curtained off in the corner of another large room. I’d say that’s already more fun than the average Tuesday usually turns out. At least it was fun until I took a read of the room—sensed out the vibe, as it were. As I woke up, I heard two nurses talking about the youngish guy in bed number whatever with the huge tumour in his guts. Poor sap.
The poor sap turned out to be me, of course. After all, everyone else in the hospital was a little old lady. My surgeon showed up and told me he removed three large chunks from the tumour for biopsy purposes and we’d look at the results soon. However, all the samples turned up negative for cancer, which really wasn’t what I was expecting. I’d been really sure my gut feeling had been right about my guts. I think the reason I’ve had such a low-key reaction to my current diagnosis was that I’d burned up a lot of that emotional energy coping with this scare the year before. That time, it was for nothing.
A follow-up colonoscopy was scheduled to clear the remnants out (obviously, it had been a different colorectal tumour that was long gone and had moved on to colonize my liver, probably many months earlier).
So, what do you do when you move somewhere to die but only manage to accomplish the moving part? In my case, after five months of local residency wherein only the workers at the post office and the local computer-equipment supplier knew I even existed, I made my public debut by becoming a waiter in a local café, real gregarious-like and friendly, despite the fact I’d never waited on tables before, hadn’t worked in a restaurant in 18 years, and hadn’t had any sort of regular job at all in a decade. I was just in a mood to try new things, without really knowing why.
It was an odd little year and a bit. Retroactively, it now makes a little more sense, presuming I was really in tune with myself enough to have a secret internal awareness of my illness. Or maybe it’s just that you never get the male menopause that you expect. I was sociable and friendly with people, energetic, a little bit extra happy to be alive, and I could talk a little about literature or old movies (ideal for an audience of little old ladies). And then, midway through the summer of 2007, my right-side ribs started aching like I’d been kicked in the chest, so I made an appointment with a new doctor”¦ My little vacation in oblivion was over.
Read part five of Dave Watson's story.